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How local is radio? FCC wants more data

The Federal Communications Commission is commissioning nine economic studies on the state of the media industry, and numbers five and six couldn’t come too soon as far as I’m concerned. Here they are:

  • Study 5: Quantity of radio news and public affairs programming provided and audience for radio news programming as a function of local market structure. This study will examine provision of radio news and public affairs programming and will examine the impact of local market structure on presence of news formats.  The study may also examine station websites to determine how much news these stations provide.
  • Study 6:  Local content on the Internet. The study will examine the availability and usage of local content on the Internet and analyze the impact of local market structure on the availability and usage of local Internet content.  The study shall analyze, at a minimum, the extent to which websites offering local Internet content are affiliated with local radio stations, television stations, newspapers, or other media entities and whether the degree of such affiliation varies across markets with different local market structures.

All the proposed studies are listed at the end of this post. This is part of the agency’s quadrennial review of its media ownership rules.

In all my years of covering the FCC and the Great Media Ownership Debate, one of the things I’ve noted is the lack of up-to-date data on questions like localism. Pro and anti-regulatory groups have been at each other’s throats for years on whether to require more local coverage from radio stations.

Example: this Youtube clip (see above)  of Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) tense confrontation with then FCC Chair Kevin Martin in 2007 over his handling of a study on local TV ownership patterns. But much of this discussion takes place without any concrete and vetted research on the degree to which radio stations and their Internet portals really serve the public, local coverage-wise.

So this is welcome stuff, to my mind. If you’re a researcher at some media institute or college and have more questions, you can contact Jonathan Levy, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, FCC at (202) 418-2048 or by email at Jonathan.Levy@fcc.gov.

  • Study 1: Media usage as a function of local market structure. This study will analyze media usage (television viewing and radio listening) as a function of local market structure, taking account of the availability of other media platforms and holding constant other relevant factors.
  • Study 2: Consumer survey and consumer valuation of media as a function of local market structure. This study will examine, based on a consumer survey, the impact of local media market structure on consumer satisfaction with available broadcast radio and television service. The study will examine, to the extent feasible, overall satisfaction with the media environment, satisfaction with locally-oriented media content, including news, and satisfaction by demographic groups. The survey will gather information on how much time people spend with various media and how people get news and information. The survey may also collect information on certain measures of civic engagement or political participation.
  • Study 3: Civic knowledge/engagement as a function of local market structure. This study will examine civic knowledge and/or engagement with respect to local or regional events as a function of local market structure, for the overall population and also, to the extent feasible, by demographic group.
  • Study 4: Quantity of local television news and public affairs programming provided as a function of local market structure. This study will examine the effect of local market structure on the total amount of local television news and public affairs programming provided by station and also by market.
  • Study 5: Quantity of radio news and public affairs programming provided and audience for radio news programming as a function of local market structure. This study will examine provision of radio news and public affairs programming and will examine the impact of local market structure on presence of news formats.  The study may also examine station websites to determine how much news these stations provide.
  • Study 6:  Local content on the Internet. The study will examine the availability and usage of local content on the Internet and analyze the impact of local market structure on the availability and usage of local Internet content.  The study shall analyze, at a minimum, the extent to which websites offering local Internet content are affiliated with local radio stations, television stations, newspapers, or other media entities and whether the degree of such affiliation varies across markets with different local market structures.
  • Study 7: Impact of minority ownership on minority-targeted radio programming. This study will examine the impact of minority ownership on minority-targeted radio station formats.  This study will assess whether minority ownership of one or more stations in a market influences the total amount of minority targeted programming available in that market.
  • Study 8: Empirical analysis of the impact of local market structure on viewpoint diversity. This study will examine the impact of local market structure on viewpoint diversity.
  • Study 9: Theoretical analysis of the impact of local market structure on the range of viewpoints supplied. This study will develop and analyze a theoretical model of the impact of local market structure on media owners’ incentives to shape the distribution of information under varying assumptions regarding owner incentives.

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